Wednesday, June 29, 2016

June Garden Maintenance

The annuals, dahlias, 16 containers and new 2016 perennial and woody plant acquisitions were largely planted in May. So, while I'm always on the lookout for new and rare plants June is the time to focus on maintenance. Not necessarily in any order of importance:

Prune crab espaliers shortly after flowering 
  • The 15' wide 'Sargent' crab espalier got pruned. If you don't get ornamental espaliers pruned soon after bloom next year's flowering will be diminished. The suckers on the 'Red Jewel' crab were removed at ground level. That will have to be done at least once more this summer. Tedious, but necessary.
When crab suckers spring up hack them down
  • Applications of Plant-Skydd are very effective in deterring deer. Now that the daylilies and roses are budded I spray those every two weeks- or else they'll end up in some deer's stomach. By the way, I learned the hard way earlier this month that whitetails love tropical hibiscus. I was soo-o-o-o mad when I saw that destruction. Now I've added that to the list of plants that need periodic Plant-Skydd applications.
  • The open silhouette of my Pinus glauca var.brevifolia nana (Japanese white pine) is no longer artistic by anyone's sensibility, least of all mine. The soft candles got pinched back by half to slow it down and tighten up its silhouette. Admittedly I'm coming to that party a few years late. Now it's always going to have huge open layers between years of growth. In horticulture we call that "character". Yeah, right.
Disbud tuberous begonias for massive blooms
  • The Blackmore & Langdon English tuberous begonias got moved up from their starting flats (that occurred in early April) to 8" pots. In a perfect world I've read they're supposed to be moved up in pot size several times throughout the growing season. That isn't going to happen. I always disbud the side female flowers and leave the large central male flower of begonias. Like peonies and dahlias, disbudding really expands the size of the remaining flower for those who want BIG!
Withering daff foliage ain't pretty, but leave it
  • Spring flowering bulb maintenance is partially complete. All daffs were deadheaded as soon as the flowers discolored. They were fed in spring when leaf tips emerged. Foliage is still green so it can't be cut yet. I lifted and pitched the tulips as I like to switch colors every year. I have to say I was pleased with the performance of the new Easy Bloom Pad bulbs I mentioned in last fall's 9.25.15 post. Those were a success.
  • The lawn is looking incredible with all the rain. After the first three mows at 2.5" I raised the mower to 3" for the summer and fall. That height does wonders for turf thickness, heat/drought tolerance and crabgrass prevention.
  • Roses have received their second feeding of Dr. Earth Bud & Bloom (3-9-4). They're smiley face happy.
Lungwort just 2 weeks after being cut back entirely
  • The spring blooming perennials have been deadheaded and/or cut back after spring bloom as per their needs. The plants I can think of that got cut back, not just deadheaded, were Nepeta (Catmint), Iberis (Candytuft) and Pulmonaria (Lungwort).
Watch out for poison ivy!
By SWMNPoliSciProject - Own work, CC BY 3.0,
  • In weeding, as always, I'm finding occasional little poison ivy seedlings. For that reason I'm always looking ahead since I don't weed with gloves. My observation is the poison ivy usually is under trees where birds have sat on a branch, passed the seeds and flown off leaving a potential dermatological disaster for the unsuspecting. 
  • Since I use Osmocote liberally in my containers at planting time maintenance is watering as needed, deadheading and enjoying from the chaise on the patio.
  • Beds are edged and the leaf mulch is down. Life is good in the garden!
Now's the time to sit back and savor those MOPs (moments of perfection) that we all garden for in the first place.


Friday, June 17, 2016

When Lilacs Fail... To Bloom

Judging strictly from the number of customer inquiries nothing, and I mean nothing, is as looked-forward-to in the spring garden as the arrival of lilac flowers. When the highly anticipated floral extravaganza fails to materialize, the customer's crushing disappointment is followed by plaintive questions: "What happened? What did I do wrong? Will it help if I fertilize? Isn't there something I can do?" Gardening self-doubt runs rampant.

Lose the guilt (those of you who are sure they are somehow at fault) and look at possible explanations for lilac flower failure. In my experience this is a much more common problem with what I call the "grandmother lilacs" (Syringa vulgaris - Common lilac) than the dwarf lilacs (S. meyeri and S. patula). That is, unless poorly timed pruning is an issue and then the latter may fail to bloom, too (Reason #9).


  1. You planted it in the last year or two. It was a small container grown plant. It's growing quite nicely, but there are no flowers. Plant is simply too young to set flower buds.
  2. You planted a more mature balled & burlapped plant. It's growing quite nicely, but there are no flowers. The plant is directing energy to regenerating roots left behind in the field when it was harvested. The larger the plant, the longer it will probably take to produce flowers.
  3. The plant is receiving more shade than it should. Lilacs like a minimum of 5 hours (more is better) of direct sun. Direct doesn't mean filtered through trees. If you love lilacs and want to be successful assess the site for sun before you buy. Sun, sun, more sun, please.
  4. The plant is in a bed near the lawn. The lawn is being fertilized three or more times a year with a high nitrogen fertilizer. The fertilizer is being broadcast and flung into the bed with the lilacs. Lilacs, like many plants, respond to nitrogen by producing lush stem and leaf growth. In that hormonal state lilacs are not in a flower producing mode. Upon questioning I find this happens a lot.
  5. It was an overgrown plant and someone did a hard rejuvenation pruning, cutting it back quite dramatically. It's growing back with lots of new young green stems. Same as #4. You'll have to wait for it to slow down, switch gears back to a flowering state again.
  6. The previous summer was really hot and dry. The plant didn't get supplemental water when it was under stress and chose resource conservation (read survival) rather than forming new flower buds.
  7. You had a lilac that had to be transplanted for some reason. It was a blooming size plant, but the root ball didn't hold together very well. So the shrub was, shall we say, stressed. That was two years ago and it's still not blooming. Same as #2, lilac in recovery mode.
  8. The plant flowered like a champ last year, you've never seen it so beautiful. Deadheading (removal of spent flower) wasn't done. No flowers appeared the following year. Explanation: The shrub was trying to produce seed from all of those flowers. Therefore, energy was spent in that pursuit, at the expense of this year's flowers. Deadheading might have made the difference between some bloom and none at all!
  9. In addition to all of these the biggie is pruning too late in the year. Because lilacs are spring flowering, they're blooming from buds formed the summer before. If your ______________________ (multiple choice, pick one: spouse/offspring/landscaper/gardener) pruned in July or later, flower buds that might have been forming were cut off. Bloom potential... lost. This happens a lot. Try to do any pruning or shaping ASAP after flowering is finished.

For at least nine reason lilacs can be like many Chicago sports teams, "Just wait 'til next year."